Canada isn’t in the World Cup right now, but that won’t stop us making it all about us. Now that we know Canada will be co-hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup alongside the U.S. and Mexico, we thought it would be a good idea to look at the state of our country’s prospective World Cup venues. Today, we’ll be looking at Montreal and the Olympic Stadium.
The subject of today’s article is a venue that will be much more familiar to Toronto FC fans than Edmonton was. As mentioned last time, Montreal is one of the three Canadian cities in line to host games at the 2026 World Cup. It would stand to reason that the likely venue is the much-maligned Stade Olympique. Shall we dive into the concrete pit?
Olympic Stadium, Montreal
First opened: 1976
Main tenant: None — occasional Montreal Impact games
Field surface: Xtreme Turf
We all love the Big O. Originally built for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, the Olympic Stadium has played host over the years to various soccer events, as well as the Montreal Alouettes and the Expos (until 2004). Today, it’s mostly used for a few Impact games in the colder months, plus a Toronto Blue Jays pre-season series most years.
The venue’s permanent capacity is 56,040, but for soccer games it’s been expanded to as much as 61,004 — perhaps even more if it’s extensively renovated (more on that in a bit). It’s hosted some of the best-attended matches in Canadian history, including a CONCACAF Champions League semi-final game between Montreal and Club América which sold out the 61,004-seat configuration (as did the 2016 MLS Eastern Conference final against Toronto FC).
In terms of international soccer, the Big O played host to nine matches at the 2015 Women’s World Cup and nine at the 2007 Men’s U-20 World Cup (plus, obviously, the 1976 Olympics).
The stadium is the subject of a lot of scorn, both within Montreal and across the country. Its construction is notorious for going well over budget; the original costs weren’t fully paid off until 2006, by which point the bill had grown to over $1.6 billion (which, according to Wikipedia, made it the second most expensive stadium ever, after Wembley; it’s since fallen to fifth). In fact, to help pay it off, the Quebec government levied a tobacco tax in 1976.
It doesn’t quite look like one of the most expensive venues out there, though. The stadium’s roof, which was originally meant to be retractable (and was for a brief period in the 80s), has collapsed several times. Its concrete skeleton has shown many signs of aging; chunks have fallen out of the walls, ceilings, and even off the giant tower over top of the building. At the moment, the stadium can’t be used in the winter if there’s more than a couple inches of snow on the roof, lest it might collapse.
In 2016, repairing rips in the roof alone cost Montreal almost $500,000. Indeed, the only reason it hasn’t been demolished entirely yet is that it would cost significantly more (anywhere between $500 and $700 million) to tear it down.
For what it’s worth, the total cost of BMO Field’s original construction, plus its 2016 renovation, comes out to about $190 million.
According to the Montreal Gazette, the Olympic Stadium will have a new roof installed (at a cost of between $2-300 million) in time for 2026. It will need to be retractable (as originally intended), to accommodate for a new natural grass surface. Grass will be another enormous expense, of course; the current artificial turf at the stadium has been likened to felt, given its strange texture and dangerous proximity to the concrete floor right under it.
It’s perhaps worth pointing out that the Impact’s home venue, Saputo Stadium, is right next door, with a capacity of 20,801 and a grass pitch. It’s hard to say whether that could be expanded instead, but the stadium itself is certainly more World Cup-ready, actual capacity aside.
In terms of accessibility, the Big O isn’t quite as central as Commonwealth Stadium. The Olympic Park is about 20-30 minutes outside of the downtown core, near the Maisonneuve area of the city. It is, however very close to both the Pie-IX and Viau Metro stations, directly accessible from downtown on the Green Line.
Montreal is a city of over 4 million, with an extremely rich sporting culture. It had the Expos for years, it’s the site of Formula 1’s Canadian Grand Prix, and of course the Canadiens make up a major part of the city’s cultural fabric. It’ll draw crowds for the World Cup, and it’s a world class host city, but a heck of a lot is going to need to go into that stadium to make it viable for 2026.